India unplugged

By on 04 Mar 2020


As the country grapples with the dual realities of Digital India and being the ‘internet shutdown capital of the world’, Amar Sundram analyses a recent Supreme Court judgment challenging blackout actions in Kashmir.

The Narendra Modi government has repeatedly emphasized the need for furthering the ease of doing business for India’s business community. The efforts have yielded results as the latest Doing Business Report, 2020, released by the World Bank in October 2019, has India ranked 63rd out of 190 countries.

One of the key ways, as stated in the Digital India mission, is to let citizens and businesses apply for licences, certificates and permits online rather than visiting government offices. Digital India was launched in mid-2015 with much fanfare, and an ambitious goal of creating a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

While there has been a push to move government services online, the internet was shut down by authorities 106 times in 2019, citing public order concerns. A leading newspaper in India published an article in December 2019 headlined: “India is the internet shutdown capital of the world”.

The impact on businesses has been felt, with a 2018 report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations estimating that, between 2012 and 2017, India lost about US$3 billion due to mobile internet and broadband shutdowns. Similarly, a telecom industry association representative estimated that the losses had increased to ₹24.5 million (US$340,000) per hour as at the end of 2019.

On the other hand, the e-commerce market in India is expected to grow to US$200 billion by 2026, making it the fastest and most exciting channel for commercial transactions. One of the big push factors for the wide penetration of e-commerce is Digital India and the wide penetration of internet services in remote areas. Life today without the internet would be almost unthinkable. Not only are sectors like banking, tourism, education, healthcare, travel and online food services heavily dependent on internet services, but socially our daily lives are increasingly linked to the internet.

This brings us to a problem – on the one hand there is a need to have internet services for the people and the development of the economy, while, on the other hand, there are frequent curbs on internet services impacting social and economic life.